Vintage Cover for Matzahs/Seder Plate – Beth Jacob Schools
Bais Yaakov (בית יעקב also written Beit Yaakov, Beth Jacob, or Beis Yaakov—literally “House [of] Jacob” in Hebrew) is a genericized name for Orthodox full-time, Jewish elementary and secondary schools throughout the world for Jewish girls from religious families. While these schools share the Bais Yaakov name, they are not necessarily affiliated, though some are, for other reasons.
The name comes from a verse in Exodus 19:3, in which the term “House of Jacob” is traditionally understood in Judaism to refer to the female segment of the Jewish nation.
The Bais Yaakov movement was started by seamstress Sarah Schenirer in 1917 in Kraków, Poland. The first school building survives as apartments, and is marked with a bronze plaque. While boys attended cheder and Talmud Torah schools (and in some cases yeshivas), at that time there was no formalized system of Jewish education for girls and young Jewish women.
Sarah Schenirer saw that there was a high rate of assimilation among girls due to the vast secular influences of the non-Jewish schools that the girls were then attending. Schenirer concluded that only providing young Jewish women with a thorough, school-based Jewish education would effectively combat this phenomenon. So she started a school of her own, trained other women to teach, and set up similar schools in other cities throughout Europe.
Branches exist in most North American cities with large populations of Orthodox Jews such as New York, Montreal, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Denver, St. Louis, Toronto, Lakewood, Passaic, Monsey and in most Israeli cities. Bais Yaakov-type schools are also found in major Jewish centers around the world such as London, Manchester, Antwerp and Moscow, and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Pre-war locations included over 260 towns and cities in Poland, with its central teachers’ seminary in Kraków.